November 16, 2011

The Group Ride

The group settles into formation meters after leaving the café. Like the table manners learned as children the formation is innate to us. Two abreast, tight against the curb we form two lines. Cars pass us with ease as we pedal out of town and into the countryside. The pair on the front increases the tempo as soon as we are out of traffic and onto the rural roads.  From experience they quickly find the rhythm of the group. On the rural roads, we’re in synch. Knowing how to ride properly in a group is taught and learned.

I was introduced to cycling as a boy. On my first group rides, I was taught how to ride with others appropriately.  As we pedalled along with our club mates, my father explained ride etiquette to me.  On open roads, the group stays close to the shoulder. To allow cars to pass and to benefit from the riders’ slipstream, the group stays compact. It is often easier for cars to pass a group of cyclists who are riding two abreast near the road’s shoulder than a group, which is single file and much longer. We must be aware we are sharing the road with other traffic.

Each pair pulls off the front sharing the workload with the others. To peel off the rider on the right moves right, the rider on the left moves left, reducing their speed gently to let the others pass. The pair who has been following slice through the pair to take the lead with the rest of the group in their slipstream. The two who have just finished their turn on the front, move back into the slipstream at the back of group rapidly to avoid being in the way of the traffic for long.

Within the group riders should always be paired up. Two abreast is acceptable, three is not.  In an odd numbered group, the single rider sits at the back. Each rider has his or her turn being alone at the tail-end. In a group, everything is shared.

A group is concerned with others’ well being. We point out obstacles in the road, we signal directions and we take care of each other. A rider who is struggling is sheltered from the wind and given food and drink. We wait for those who have punctured and help them repair the flat. Every cyclist has a bad day. A group will get you through the bad moments.

Like bragging at a dinner party about wealth, nobody appreciates a rider who constantly forces the pace to prove his strength.  Half-wheeling, the term used to describe a rider who is constantly pushing the pace half a wheel in front of the others, is an insult not a compliment. Group rides are not races. Good riders are in tune with each others’ abilities and the groups’ objective. At the right moment, when everybody is ready, the tempo will increase, the group will splinter, the strongest will surge ahead, and then only to regroup again at a designated spot.

A group ride should be challenging but also pleasant. Experiencing an achievement is often richer when shared.  On the bike, each pair of riders converses as if they’re across from each other at a dinner table but in the fresh air the conversation is often more animated. On the roads, societal hierarchies are muted. A CEO is just another wheel to follow. A professional cyclist is just another face glistening sweat.

Together, a group of eight eats through the hours. In nearly six hours, we’ve seamlessly devoured mountains, cut through valleys and popped through towns. Even our stop at a café failed to break our rhythm. On the terrace, everything continued to flow.

39 Responses to “The Group Ride”

  • Posted by BoaB | November 16, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Well said Michael. The well-being of the group should always be paramount.

  • Posted by Tracy Q-P | November 16, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Thanks for that…reads like a plan for life!

  • Posted by regsf | November 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Excellent. There’s not enough cycling etiquette on today’s roads.

  • Posted by Michael Scher | November 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Well-written, as always – informative, economical and entertaining. It’s as much a pleasure to read you as it is to ride with you. Grazie, Sr. Barry.

  • Posted by Bruce Ketchum | November 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Nicely spoken, Mike. Really enjoy following your career. You do us proud.

  • Posted by Brenda Bell | November 16, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Lovely post. Poetic. Beautiful. Makes me wish I were faster and able to climb anything more than a low train overpass.

  • Posted by Alex | November 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    So true, the hours and kilometers go by so much smoother. It’s a world of difference, to ride with a well disciplined group, than with a bunch of people that are all over the road.
    Wish it was obligatory to train people how to ride.
    Let them read your postings!
    Thank you.

  • Posted by Antonio Costa | November 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Very nice.

    Thank you.

  • Posted by Orbea51 | November 16, 2011 at 8:38 pm


  • Posted by Brian Frank | November 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Well said, Michael,,
    I am sure even the old and hardened Zoo Crew guys will appreciate this fine bit of writing about group road riding.
    Cheers. B.

  • Posted by Rose | November 17, 2011 at 6:34 am

    Bravo! Beautifully written! I felt as though I was along for the ride, enjoying every moment Thank you for explaining proper group ride etiquette.

  • Posted by John | November 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Very true. There isn’t much that looks better than a well drilled club run trotting through the country lanes. A few weeks ago We had a guy leap out of his car with a camera and start snapping away as rolled past!

  • Posted by John Sadler | November 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Great read! Even inspirational. I want to go for a ride now!

  • Posted by Brian | November 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    Sounds like the Donut Run! Great writing as always Michael, also great to see you have signed with Sky for another year to keep the Canadian presence in the European peloton alive.

  • Posted by Roberto | November 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Bravo! Le Métier is such a beautiful read. You have successfully captured this beautiful sport.

  • Posted by Peter Wilborn | November 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Great article Michael.

    Check out an piece I wrote called The Lost Art of the Group Ride:

    BTW, I proudly ride my Mariposa in South Carolina. Never seen another down here. Hope your dad is well.


  • Posted by Greg | November 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you Michael… Your writing reminds me of these now fall rides with sun shining past the spaces left by fallen leaves and blocked by the yellow fading leaves still waiting to.

  • Posted by peter osborne | November 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    Great piece. Makes me want to drop what I’m doing an go ride. Although I ride solo more often than not, the camaraderie and feeling that everything is “right” in a well tuned group ride is always so rewarding.

  • Posted by Richard Williams | November 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Michael, good read ~ do you mind if I copy it across ( with all credits to you and Sky ) to our club magazine Seamons CC?

  • Posted by Michael Barry | November 17, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Richard: Yes, you can copy it to your club site. Thanks for asking and pleased you enjoyed it. Best, Michael

  • Posted by Richard Williams | November 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for the reply Michael ~ your story greatly appreciated and hopefully included in the next club mag. Ride safe, Richard

  • Posted by Matt | November 18, 2011 at 4:31 am

    Great post! Sums up everything that’s both immediate and transcendent about riding in a Group. Can’t wait for the morning Ride. Best of luck next season!

  • Posted by Jules | November 18, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Excellent piece as always.
    Lot’s can be learn’t from the article. Hope all my club mates will read this and take something from it.
    Shame I have to wait till tomorrow morning until our training ride :-(

  • Posted by Mike | November 19, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Perfect timing, time of year for LSD Group Rides, thanks!

  • Posted by Matt Smith | November 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Hey Michael, Abi and I were thinking we should print this out and hand to folks on the Donut ride. Best of luck next year and enjoy the holidays.

  • Posted by Michael Barry | November 20, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Hi Matt: Thanks. Good idea–it is fine with me if you print it off and hand it out. All the best, Michael

  • Posted by Mike Schott | November 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    That’s a nice story.

  • Posted by geoff gadd | November 24, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    thanks mike barry jnr for agreat story on group riding reminds me of the QCBC and the randonneurs in toronto during the 80/s and 90/s thank you mike barry snr for those events and a special thank you from all the riders who rode in those yrs yours truly Geoff Gadd .

  • Posted by keith | November 26, 2011 at 7:33 am


    Lovely ride, great route, isn’t Catalunya one of the best places in the world for cycling. If you ever want to discover new terrain a little further afield,( a day trip to Barcelona with a ride included) then I’d be more than happy to show you the trails and tracks around here. Stay safe and happy winter training.

  • Posted by Gus Bagarozza | December 2, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Very informative on how to properly do a group ride. I like the emphasis on the group rather than the individual. Riding two abreast consistenly gives it a sense of order and each rider taking their turn pulling ensures all are contributing to the ride.

  • Posted by Henry Levy | December 26, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    I’ve been enjoying both your and your father’s posts. Geoff Gadd taught me how to ride in a pace line and I am grateful for that skill, it seems anyone who came out of your fathers group can slide into any group that they have the fitness to stay on and be accepted. If you have a minute could you bounce Geoff Gadd my e mail address I would like to find out how he is doing.

  • Posted by Pro Bike Racer Michael Barry’s Group Ride | January 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    [...] HERE to read the full post at Barry’s blog. Thanks for the wisdom [...]

  • Posted by Patrick Kings | April 19, 2012 at 3:55 am

    I am hoping to copy your ‘group ride’ article to our club website. We just got rolling a few ago and have crested 100 plus members! Thanks for all the great articles. Cheers, PJ Kings

  • Posted by Kevin | July 16, 2012 at 6:40 am

    The only ‘problem’ with this style of group riding is when the front two peel off to the sides, the group effectively becomes 4 riders wide at that particular point, and as they roll to the back of the group, which can be an issue on some narrower or busier roads. We have recently changed the group riding etiquette of our club in Singapore to that of a slower rolling echelon, whereby the rider on the front right rolls over to infront of the rider on the left, then the right ‘lane’ of riders rolls up and the second in line takes to the front – this way the workload is still shared, but the group is never more than 2 riders wide on the road – just another option of group riding style for thought!

  • Posted by Laurence Kelly | August 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Well put, and nicely written.


  • [...] These tips come from former pro rider and author Michael Barry who wrote a beautiful piece on riding in the group. [...]

  • Posted by Chris Ma | December 4, 2013 at 12:18 am

    Excellent write up, Michael. I appreciate you sharing this valuable information of which every cyclist can benefit from in addition to getting the most out of group rides which ultimately makes a group ride safer and that much more enjoyable.

  • Posted by Patrick | January 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    very well written – makes me want to get out and ride (then I see the snow still on the ground).
    I agree with Kevin (from Singapore). I had the opportunity to ride with an advanced group in Squamish BC last summer and they had a similar approach to the group ride – in their case the curb line was the slower line. We were never more than 2 wide and the left line effectively carried the pace as they rode “through” the right line until the first rider on the left pulled across to the front of the right line.

  • Posted by DPalmerCWC | August 7, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Just finished Shadows on the Road. Best cycling book I’ve read and I’ve read most of ‘em. Thanks for reminding me why I love to ride

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